Yoder, Darwin, and Machiavelli

This is interesting (to me at least). Darwin, Machiavelli, and Yoder all seem to be highlighting the same thing here (which must be some kind of miracle, right?). “Same thing” is probably overstating it quite a bit, but read these passages and see if you see the common thread that I do. I would love to get some comments on this.

“A tribe including many members who, from possessing in high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.” Charles Darwin The Descent of Man, 1871

“Machiavelli praises Florentine patriots who dared to defy the Pope, showing thus ‘how much higher they placed their city than their souls.’ He then applies the same expression to himself at the end of his life, writing to his friend Vettori: ‘I love my native city more than my own soul.’ The expression was no cliché but meant literally that one was prepared to forfeit an everlasting life or to risk the punishments of hell for the sake of one’s city. The question, as Machiavelli saw it, was not whether one loved God more than the world, but whether one was capable of loving the world more than one’s own self. Most of Machiavelli’s arguments against religion are directed against those who love themselves, namely their own salvation, more than the world; they are not directed against those who really love God more than they love either the world or themselves.” Hannah Arendt On Revolution, 1963

“Our experience has taught us to assume that the assent of others, or at least their respect, or at least our submitting to their mode of validation, is a precondition to our own right to hold to what we believe. Physical claims must be validated by the experimental method, historical claims by documents, matters of high culture by the experts and of popular culture by the media marketplace. This notion of possible universal validation by common consent is the legacy of a time when either ethnic and linguistic homogeneity or the dominance of a specific elite made it possible to go on thinking that ’can we expect everyone to agree?’ is a normal way to phrase the truth question.

From the fact that in these ways the believing community distinguishes between the values which guide discipleship and those which may find effective implementation in the civil community it does not by any means follow that believers are unconcerned from the civil realm, that they have nothing to say to it or that they withdraw from it.

By definition, the members of a community thinking in ’apocalyptic’ terms do not thus count on everyone’s agreement. They have accepted their minority status and their powerlessness not only as facts but as their epistemological condition. They are unembarrassed by the fact that the ideas they hold would not convince others, for whom Christ is not sitting at the Right Hand. A remaining segment of our task in interpreting the apocalyptic mode is then to ask how ’validation’ must look when ’the consensus of all reasonable people’ may not be appealed to. Why did the first hearers or readers of the messages of Ezekiel or Daniel listen?

Why did the first readers of John’s apocalypse respect it? Because it resonated, in a literary genre different from the other apostolic writings but in an an old and familiar vocabulary, with the identity commitments which the early messianic synagogues were already most sure about. It resonated with their Jewish monotheism confessing only one ultimate mover of history; with their messianic trust that the way of the cross had ultimately to be the way for the world; and with their pentecostal conviction that the meaning of the Father and the Son would continue to be actualized in their own worship and mission. What accredits a prophetic word is not its demonstrable control of events but its coherence with the already known story.

The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the swords are not as strong as they think – true as that is: we still sing, ’O where are Kings and Empires now of old that went and came?’ It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. One does not come to that belief by reducing social process to mechanical and statistical models, nor by winning s o m e of one’s battles for the control of one’s own corner of the fallen world. One comes to it by sharing the life of those who sing about the Resurrection of the slain Lamb.” John Howard Yoder, “Armaments and Eschatology,” Studies in Christian Ethics, 1988.

The God We Worship Is the Lamb Who Was Slain

“The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.” – John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, p. 51.

There is a scene described in Revelation 5 (see below), where Jesus appears before some sort of heavenly assembly, as the only one worthy to open scrolls that mark the culmination of history. It is quite easy to get caught up in the strangeness of Revelation (even to the point of creating elaborate fictions), but the point I would like to draw your attention to is that Jesus appears in that scene as, “a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered,” and this form is directly linked to the worship that is then given to him, as the assembly declares: “worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered.”

This does not fit well with many of the popular explanations we give regarding how we are saved; instead the cross is regarded as more of a functional (if inconvenient) necessity. Based on how many Christians go about their business, it is not congruent with how we think the kingdom is to come, since our kingdom-building rarely emulates this form. We are generally at a loss to explain the intentionality with which Jesus pursued the cross, much less why He stands in Revelation worshipped as a slaughtered Lamb. I think all of these warrant discussion, but for this Good Friday, I just want to draw your attention, perhaps your adoration, hopefully your worship, to this slaughtered Lamb. He is indeed worthy.

Revelation 5

Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.

4 Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. 7 He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. 8 And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song with these words:

You are worthy to take the scroll

and break its seals and open it.

For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

10 And you have caused them to become

a Kingdom of priests for our God.

And they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. 12 And they sang in a mighty chorus:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered

to receive power and riches

and wisdom and strength

and honor and glory and blessing.”

13 And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

Blessing and honor and glory and power

    belong to the one sitting on the throne

    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

14 And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.